Recently I had to transport a cat via airline. I've never flown with a pet before, and I was a bit apprehensive. First, it was a challenge to figure out the airline requirements and get a soft sided carrier that would easily fit under the seat and meet all the requirements for ventilation, size, etc. This took visits to several local pet stores. In the end I had a choice between a $70 carrier and a $45 carrier, and I went with the cheaper one figuring it was a one time use deal, and I'd just use the carrier for regular vet visits after that until it wore out. Although I would have preferred not to spend the money, none of my hard or soft sided carriers met size requirements.
Second, although the airline claimed a health certificate was not required, the vet told me I could be prevented from flying without one. I decided to err on the side of caution and obtain one, since I was at the vet for some sedation medicine anyway. I found it interesting that it was $20 for the health exam and $40 for the health certificate - twice as much to write down the findings as to make them apparently. Bummer.
Third, I obtained sedation meds because I figured that this cat - who cries all the way to the vet and all the way home - would not appreciate an 8 hour trip and would probably register some vocal complaints. I thought it would be easier on him to be dozing - and easier on me. Unfortunately, the vet told me that the meds do not work on all cats. "The side effects vary hugely," she said. Apparently, the cat could remain awake, go to sleep, get hyper, throw up, or the meds could have no effect. Awesome. That really provides me with a lot of variety and not a lot of certainty. She also recommended starting with a half dose and giving as little as possible. I could give 1/2 pill and see what happened and then give another 1/2 if need be, but no more than one whole pill per 8 hours. The whole trip would be 8 hours so if the 2nd dose did nothing I would be SOL.
This particular cat, Rocky (pictured above), is 14 pounds and is really laid back and mellow. At the vet he is not nervous, he gets out and walks around and looks out the window. He likes dogs, kids and other cats. He does not like riding in the car. I suspected he would not like riding in planes either. But he had no choice. His current owners were no longer in a position to keep him, having decided that allergies meant he needed to live outside. He is declawed, and winter is coming, two reasons I was not comfortable leaving him in that arrangement. All local rescue groups and shelters were full with 6-9 month waiting lists. Craigslist did not work. All friends and friends of friends in the area turned down the offer to adopt him. The cat did not ask for this set of circumstances and I was determined to get him a good home. I have a friend who was willing to adopt him so it was just a matter of transport.
I pulled his food and water the night before travel to avoid having him need to relieve himself on the journey.
The sedatives did not really work - two doses and he was still registering complaints. He complained for an hour while I was driving to the airport. He was quiet on the bus that I had to take after returning the car. Then the really embarrassing part: airport security. You have to take the cat out of the bag - literally - and walk it through the metal detector. There is just NO WAY that you can pull that off without appearing to be the crazy cat lady!!!!
He meowed off and on - but was usually drowned out by screaming babies (never thought there would be a plus for those!) He would scratch against the bag and even bite me through it, then give up so completely I would fear he was dead. Once during a plane change I took him out of the bag in the restroom. He looked at the four grey walls and got back in the bag.
In the end we arrived safely - and Rocky has settled into his new home without complaint. I hope I don't have to fly with pets again, but I am glad it did not go worse.